On the eve of International Women’s Day (IWD), the Irish Red Cross hosted the latest in a series of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Roundtable discussions – this one on the topic of IHL and sexual violence. The proximity to IWD was unintentional but the topic provoked reflection on the violence that women in particular endure in armed conflict and post conflict settings and prompted a debate about the purpose of IWD.
Should we use this day, now in its hundred and first year, to focus on the positive and celebrate the achievements of the past century, or should we, alternatively, focus on the negative and use the day to highlight the shortcomings, what is yet to be achieved and, in particular, the still pervasive inequality between men and women today?
Following much debate, we decided it was for both. It is only right to celebrate the brave and inspirational women (and men) that have pushed for equal rights for men and women since 1911, and indeed those who went before. It is thanks to them that women can vote in almost every state across the globe, can stand for election, go to university, work outside the home, and lead independent lives.
Nonetheless despite the accomplishments of the past century, women around the world are disproportionally affected by poverty, food insecurity, displacement and violence and frequently poorly represented in positions of power. It is estimated that one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Women are also increasingly bearing the brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Globally women account for approximately half of all infected people. In sub-Saharan Africa however this rises to almost 60 per cent and young women aged 15 – 24 are more than three times as likely to be infected as young men.
The Red Cross Red Crescent movement is committed to tackling both the impact of gender inequality as well as those factors that contribute to it including poverty, discrimination and abuse of power. We acknowledge the integral but often overlooked contributions of women to society the world over and recognise the significant role of women in providing and building resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges. The 2011 IFRC World Disasters Report in particular acknowledged the importance of providing appropriate support to women in the developing world in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
The Irish Red Cross is an active advocate within the Red Cross Red Crescent movement in support of efforts to address gender based violence and in Ireland is a member of the Irish Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence which comprises Irish human rights, humanitarian and development organisations, Irish Aid and the Defence Forces, all working together to address gender based violence. Its overall aim is to promote the adoption of a coherent and coordinated response to gender based violence (GBV).
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Louise Sarsfield Collins
Email: email@example.com for details about the next Irish Red Cross IHL Roundtable Discussion
Photo: Deinneu, Zouan Hounien, Man, Côte d'Ivoire. "I've never been so desperate. I bounced back after the first crisis, but the second one wiped me out."
© B. Houdijk